Overcoming and offering: Narratives of resilience from diverse older adults

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Advancements in science, technology, and medicine are extending the average human lifespan while the largest cohort in the U.S. is moving into older adulthood. These older adults are diverse regarding gender, race/ethnicity, economic status, and living patterns, resulting in intersecting and multiple advantages and disadvantages that will likely impact the need and availability of care in different ways due to a differential distribution of health risks and behavior, economic status, and family/living structure. Recent theoretical models of aging have found the attributes and processes of resilience to be a key factor in aging well. There is much that has been published on the characteristics and enhancement of resilience, while assessing resilience continues to fall behind in research. Exploring resilience in the lives of diverse older adults from the perspectives of their culture, life history, and individual circumstances is a way to understand unique health outcomes in later years. The purpose of this study was to add to the discussion on the phenomenon of resilience as experienced by diverse older adults in the U.S. through the exploration of the qualities and processes of resilience or resilient adaptation as communicated in personal narratives. For this study, a phenomenological approach was used to gain a deep understanding of the nature and meaning of resilience described by older adults as positive outcomes after adverse life events. The diverse identities of the storytellers include ages ranging from 65 to 96 years old, and racial/ethnic backgrounds including Black, Asian, White, American Indian, and Hispanic individuals. Six storytellers self-identified as cisgender women, one as a transgender woman, and eight as cisgender men. Twelve storytellers self-identified as heterosexual and three as gay. The data for this study came from stories previously communicated by older adults, which were found in the public domain. The Google Chrome search engine was utilized to find electronically submitted stories communicated in written and/or oral format by diverse older adults, in which resilience was thematically evident. Stories communicated in written form were copied exactly and stories recorded in oral format were transcribed. Three main themes were identified from the 15 stories collected and analyzed – Theme 1/Personal Attributes, Theme 2/Social Resources, and Theme 3/Actions and Behaviors. Findings were generally consistent with recent aging research suggesting the importance of personal, social, and environmental resources in facilitating successful aging through resilient adaptation (Holstein & Minkler, 2003. Recommendations for training and policymaking are also offered.

Older, Adult, Blogs, Stories